Wednesday, March 21

Asparagus and Aesthetics

Although we can now eat it anytime thanks (or no thanks) to refrigerated cross-country shipping, asparagus still strikes me as being a taste of spring. I love to eat asparagus roasted in a bit of olive oil until it is just softened... maybe sprinkled with some freshly cracked black pepper or a bit of grated asiago cheese... or drizzled with a little fresh balsamic vinaigrette.
Yesterday I stopped in at my favorite local garden center to get some generic potting soil. I noticed that amongst the bulbs and seeds they also have asparagus roots, and that got me thinking again about growing my own asparagus.
I love the challenge of figuring out how to incorporate edibles and herbs into my small yard and garden while keeping everything aesthetically pleasing, and for the most part I think that I succeed in this fairly well. Asparagus is proving to be my downfall, though. Between the trenching and the need for lack of competition, it just seems to be more of a "farm" type of vegetable than one that can be worked into a landscaping situation.
I just don't see how it can be grown within my own personal garden constraints... but then, I haven't had the luxury of observing asparagus over a year or two or ten. I'm hoping that someone who is reading this blog has more experience and can give me a few ideas on how to work asparagus into a landscape. Would adding a low, long planter full of colorful herbs in front of the ferns work to hide the ugliness below the fern top, or are there wide and spreading perennials that would help camouflage? Or do you think I'm better off just finding a local farmer's market and giving up on the idea of growing my own? I would love to hear your thoughts...

21 comments:

Kathy said...

I grow asparagus but I don't grow it well. I don't keep on top of the weeds, and so when I do weed, I wind up disturbing the roots. However, I still get asparagus, just not the optimum yield. Also, when we moved here, there was asparagus growing wild in what I presume had formerly been a flower bed. I have left it there and grown flowers around it. The plants in front obscure the legginess at the bottom, and the wonderfully ferny asparagus foliage adds great texture.

I say think of asparagus as a back-of-the-border foliage plant and see what happens. Don't get stuck in the idea that it has to be planted in rows. Do you plant ornamental grasses that way? Asparagus will get as tall as some grasses, but will be more of a see-through plant. The biggest problem I can see you having is that you won't have room to plant as many asparagus plants as you might like. Also, you wouldn't want to plant them anyplace there might be lead in the soil.

Kate said...

I don't have experience with growing asparagus, but I would love to try it. I like the idea of interspersing it with other perennials so that the bottom bits are hidden.

Sorry I can't be of much help - I will be interested to see what you are able to come up with!

The County Clerk said...

Oh... right... gardens can make food too... :)

I can't wait till summer.

By the way, I've tagged you with a meme (sorry)

http://tinyurl.com/3anp7w

Entangled said...

I'm going to echo what Kathy said. My grandfather used to forage for asparagus every spring along the roadsides in northern Illinois, where it had absolutely no care (was probably mowed a few times in a season too), and plenty of competition.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Kathy, I wasn't even thinking about it as a back-of-the-border plant. I was short-sighted, thinking only about how to hide it in the front of the border. After reading your comment, the lightbulb went off. That makes perfect sense and is completely doable, I think. Even if I don't have optimum yield, I'll get some and the lacey foliage would be a good addition in a few places in the bed. Thank you!

Kate, thanks for stopping by. :)

Clerk, I still can't believe that you don't grow some of your own food. A cultured guy like you, I figured you'd be a foodie for sure and harvest large quantities of gourmet goods from your yard!

entangled, that's very good to know... between you and Kathy, it really sounds like asparagus's adversion to competition might be overstated. Whew.

(I wish "experts" would be more generous with this kind of information, you know? As in, tell us that for best yield it wants to be without competition, but that it can handle some competition if you don't mind a lighter yield.)

Annie in Austin said...

Kim, I grew a few dozen plants at the back of a long border in a smallish yard. We didn't get much of a crop, but the plumes have such a bouyant frothiness that it did add something to the mix. They are tall and take a fair amount of space. The female plants get red berries and you're supposed to immediately remove those plants for agricultural purposes, but of course I left them because the berries were so decorative in the border.

I roasted some asparagus last weekend, too - also in olive oil. Now you're making me want to buy more.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Kim, I haven't grown asparagus yet, so I can't help you with that. Luckily you got some good advice from others I see. :-)

I love eating asparagus but will have to wait a few more weeks before they are available in the shops.

Let us know how it goes with your asparagus experiment if you're going to give it a try!

John Curtin said...

'hiding the ugliness under the fern top'......I wouldn't say mine were ugly, the fern fronds seem evenly spread and the berries are decorative. Connover's Colossal but in a dedicated bed. In a flower bed put them at the back as probably the tallest plant. Yield will probably be low due to competition but treat whatever you get as a bonus. But you'll have to wait 2-3 years to let the crown bulk up and spears develop. Then if you don't think it's worth it yank 'em out and buy from the farm shop!Then again maybe just use (more) decorative grasses or the like and rely on the farm shop for food!

Tracy said...

Kim: I plan to plant asparagus at the back of a semi-native flower border. The asparagus will be in the back, and in front will be low-care plants like Black-Eyed Susan, New England Asters, monarda, butterfly weed, etc. I'll have a 2' walking path between the asparagus and the other plants, so maybe I can keep it semi-weeded. Like Kathy mentioned, I see the fronds as a nice alternative to a grass, plus you get to have fresh asparagus every spring! My mother, who grew asparagus while I was growing up, is quite skeptical that my plan will work, but what's gardening for if not experimentation?

meresy_g said...

I see asparagus fronted with Ruby Swiss chard and maybe a little alpine strawberry border in the front. I grow asparagus and I do not manage to keep it weedfree. It still comes up. And keep in mind that it is tall. 4-5 feet. It loves compost, so as long as you feed it well, it shouldn't mind being a little crowded. The only thing I don't like about asparagus was the wait. You have to wait three years (supposedly) before you are supposed to harvest any of it.

A wildlife gardener said...

Never grown it, but I'm salivating ...

The County Clerk said...

A cultured guy like you, I figured you'd be a foodie for sure and harvest large quantities of gourmet goods from your yard!


i fear you have me all wrong. 100%.

it's gardens and dogs and horses and wood (and sailboats). really.

explains everything actually.

chuck b. said...

Next time, try roasting it in sesame oil!

Sandy said...

I do the same thing with my garden. The vegetables are tucked in among the flowers, with just a back corner set aside for tomato and cucumber towers. Asparagus is something I haven't tried yet. Good luck with yours.

healingmagichands said...

Kate sent me over here because I have posted a picture of asparagus from my garden on my blog. She seems to think I might know something about it.

However, after having read all the comments here, I think that you pretty much have the information you need to have. I think putting it in the back of your flower border as single plants as a point of interest is a very good idea.

Just remember, as one of your previous commentators mentioned, asparagus that is happy gets VERY TALL. Mine regularly reaches 5 to 6 feet in height. The thing about putting it into a flower border is that although it may have other plants around it, you are likely to be removing weeds from an ornamental border fairly regularly. As long as it is not too crowded by the other plants, I think you will do fine. It would be natural to put some sort of annual in front of it, my asparagus doesn't mind sharing space with spinach, beets or lettuces.

When you start your babies, make sure that you dig a deep enough hole for them. This will make your flower border a little unsightly at first, because the planting method for asparagus will require you to keep adding soil to the hole for a while during the spring. So make sure you have enough room to maneuver when you are establishing them.

The books talk about trenching because most people decide on an asparagus "bed" and establish it in rows. So you dig a trench for the rows. You really must dig down quite far for asparagus to be happy, then it will put its roots out way beyond its hole too. Your hole should be at least six inches deep. Ten to twelve inches is better. Make sure you are not trying to grow in clay soil, add a lot of compost if you are. Spread out the roots in the bottom of the hole, and fill it half way. Once the sprouts start coming up, fill in around them.

You can buy asparagus plants from places where they are two years old roots, which means they have shown their sex and you can buy only male plants. A female plant will put a lot of energy into maturing the berries, and will not produce very well. So if you really want asparagus to eat, I would dispense with the pretty red berries.

I like the idea of an edible landscape. Not that I practice this, you understand. I have two acres to play in and so I have a dedicated vegetable garden. When we decided to put one of the eight raised beds to asparagus, my husband wasn't sure this was such a good idea, but we are very glad we did so.

Good luck!

lisa said...

Well Kim, I make no claims to be an "asparagus guru", but here's a link to my patch:

http://mrimomma.blogspot.com/search/label/veggies

This is my 2nd year harvesting...the first I just let them grow and go to fern/seed. As you can see, there's a decorative fence around them but no other plants. I toyed with the idea of planting flowers of some sort, but decided the competition would not be a good thing. But the ferns look pretty nice after I'm done harvesting, so I handle it okay.

UKBob said...

I just put ten asparagus in but I'm growing them in a row along the edge of the veg plot to define it from the rest of the garden if you see what I mean. I've never grown it before but intend to grow it in the traditional manner so not much help to you I'm afraid.

Anthony said...

I just made an impulse purchase of some asparagus roots too. Had no plans to buy them but I saw them at the garden center and said why not?

Keep us updated on how your plants do

Anonymous said...

Asparagus takes time to get established in a garden--try planting parsley with it, adds vigor to the plant and make sure you aren't trying to grow asparagus next to any plant of the Buttercup family. But, really, after asparagus is established it will grow forever. I have had aspargus in my garden for years and never had any problems.

Anonymous said...

Hopes that helps! :-)

Anonymous said...

Asparagus likes deep, rich soil, so be ready with your compost. I think if you keep your other garden plants at least a few feet away and keep the bed well-weeded, adding compost as mulch every year (since they tend to move up a bit each year and to add all the other benefits of mulch), you will be fine. Just remember not to do any digging within a few feet of the plants, since their roots are quite fragile.

This year marked the 3rd spring for my plants and one of them reached 7 feet tall! Good luck with yours.

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